Ninth Inning Breeds Hope, Misfortune

OMAHA, Neb. – Florida had the group it wanted coming to the plate down one run in the ninth inning. Three veterans, three All-Americans. What looked like a promising end turned into disaster and a heartbreaking end of a trip to the College World Series. The Gators left the bases loaded in the ninth inning after Casey Turgeon struck out and Justin Shafer flew out to end the No. 1 seed's season.

Kent State left-hander Michael Clark started the ninth inning against the heart of the Florida lineup. He walked Preston Tucker on four pitches and fell behind Mike Zunino 2-0. Kent State head coach Scott Stricklin didn't waste time going to his bullpen and calling on Josh Pierce.

It wasn't much different. Pierce fired two balls and Zunino trotted to first base.

Instead of sending designated hitter Brian Johnson to the plate, Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan elected to pinch hit with Cody Dent to sacrifice bunt. Pierce fell behind Dent 3-0 and worked it back to a full count before Dent got the bunt down to move the runners up.

"I bunted him because I didn't want (Johnson) to hit into a double play," O'Sullivan said. "I wanted to put two guys in scoring position and potentially score a run without getting a hit."

Pierce hit Daniel Pigott with a pitch to load the bases with one out for Casey Turgeon. Pierce again fell behind 3-0 but threw a ball over the plate for the first strike of the at-bat. His 3-1 pitch was called a strike and drew plenty of questions from the Florida dugout.

Turgeon tried to check his swing on the 3-2 pitch but third base umpire Jeff Henrichs ruled that he swung and that it was a strikeout.

"My first gut instinct was hoping it was going to be ball four," said Zunino, who was on second base. "They appealed, and it wasn't. I thought the umpire did a great job the whole game."

If the 3-1 pitch was ruled a ball, the game would have been tied.

"The game was not decided by the umpires," O'Sullivan said. "The game was decided by both teams playing. The umpires had nothing to do with it."

Shafer hit the last out of the game hard to right field, but it was caught just shy of the warning track. Once it was caught, a sense of disbelief spread through the Florida dugout and even the players on the bases.

Pigott bent down at first base, helmet over his head. Others slowly walked back to the dugout, unsure of what to do next. After rounding the bases while the ball was in the air, Zunino kept running, this time to first base. He helped Pigott up and shared an embrace before the two started their slow, cautious walk back to the dugout.

The team that was picked as the favorite before the season and at the end of the regular season as the favorite to win a national championship was eliminated after its first two games.

"I've been about to make it out here three times and all three times I've been just as disappointed," Zunino said. "You put in so much hard work and get so close to the guys. You don't want it to end."


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